The only Senegal Parrots I saw in Senegal were a pair of wild caughts for sale at the side of a road in the capital city of Dakar. As we were driving through heavy traffic, the seller of these parrots walked up to the car sticking the cage up to the window offering both of them with cage for 20 euros (approximately $30 USD).
Before reading/looking further I must warn you that images, videos, and descriptions are very graphic and you may well not want to see/read this. If seeing images of animals suffering is unbearable to you, stop here. You won't regret missing what I experienced.
People have been asking me why I did not buy them to keep or release. First of all, I was traveling on vacation with no interest in actually buying a parrot. Taking them out of the country may be problematic but bringing them into the US would be absolutely illegal. Buying the parrots to free them would first off encourage capture of more parrots for sale. Since the parrots were likely caged as such for a long time with no ability to exercise, they were most likely malnourished with atrophied muscles. They would not be able to evade predators or humans if freed and most likely eaten or captured for sale again.
As I explain in parrot training, it is important not to positively reinforce unwanted behavior. And in this case paying for the capture of wild parrots would simply encourage them to do more of this. For all of these reasons I did not do any of this and (besides recording) simply ignored the seller by not offering to pay. Those two parrots are doomed no matter what. They are doomed if they get sold, doomed if they aren't sold, and just as much if they are released. The best thing I can do is not to be a participant in this industry.
The seller was bargaining insistently trying to get us to buy them so to ward him off we asked to see the documents for the parrots which immediately changed his desire to try to push us to buy.
During the trip I spotted wild caught Senegal Parrots and Rose Ringed Parakeets held captive on several further occasions including in a small aviary in a hotel garden. Some of the wildlife reserves had cages with confiscated wild caught parrots that they were rehabilitating for release back into the wild.
I visited the forests of Sierra Leone to which Cape Parrots (Poicephalus Robustus Fuscicollis) are endemic but did not have the chance to see any. The local people have different names for the parrots so it was difficult to explain. But when I showed a picture of Truman, rather than saying where to see them in the wild, they said you can find those for sale on the market from time to time. The Cape Parrots are definitely far less common than the Senegal Parrots. On the other hand, the Rose Ringed Parakeets seem quite plentiful.
During the last segment of my trip in Bomako Mali, I was taken to see the local parrot market. Scattered on the side of the street under cover of trees were about a dozen vendors and many cages. At least as many other kinds of local birds were offered as parrots. Parrots came in two varieties: Rose Ringed Parakeets (Psittacula krameri) and Senegal Parrots (Poicephalus Senegalus).
Atop a garbage pail was a small round cage housing nearly 20 parrots and parakeets. The condition of the cage was so crammed that some of the parrots had to cling to the cage bars or stand on top of other birds. The poor condition of the parrots was evident through plucked feathers, missing eyes, missing limbs, and weak stance. Tossed on the bottom of the cage amidst feces was chicken feed mainly consisting of corn. Despite their tragic lives, the Senegal Parrots still gave off that typical parrot curiosity and watched me as I approached.
Rose Ringed Parakeets were available in abundance and very cheap. The seller offered a pair of them for $15 including the cage. The Senegal Parrots were just a bit more expensive at $10 each. Most of the parrots were not captured in Bomako but brought in from Segou, Mali. How shocked the sellers would be to know that the parrots they are selling for $5-$10 a piece often carry a price tag of as much as $600 in the US. Of course there's no comparison; the American ones are carefully domestically bred and raised while those were snatched from the wild.
The market parrots were mostly being sold to local people (often as decorations for offices and hotels) but some to smugglers to be taken abroad. To show a parrot to perspective customers, the vendor opens a small door on the cage and reaches his arm in. The parrots immediately go into a frenzy and start jumping over each other to try to evade the approaching hand. Meanwhile he starts grabbing and pulling by their wings until they can no longer hold on and fall into his reach.
I alone cannot do anything about the situation. Buying, releasing, arguing, or anything else would not have solved anything. However, I feel that by sharing this with everyone, people may develop a differing view. Whether you travel to Africa or some other place with native parrots for sale, do not under any circumstances buy them (whether to keep or release). Discourage others from buying wlid caught parrots as well. Adopt parrots from rescues, other owners, or buy parrots from domestic breeders. Unfortunately there is little that can be done about the capture of wild caught parrots for sale to locals. However, as long as foreign trafficking of wild caught parrots ceases, the populations in most cases should be sustainable. It is not an easy problem to solve but it's easy not to be a part of it. And finally, just remember to take good care of your own birds and help out birds at rescues so that our descendants of those wild caught parrots can have a better life.
During a recent trip to Chicago, I visited the Field Museum. This natural history museum boasts an outstanding collection of bird specimens even finer than the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
I was astonished to be looking at a real life (dead actually) Carolina Parakeet well knowing that they had been extinct for a century. The Conuropsis carolinensis was a mid-sized parakeet with the approximate dimensions of a Sun Parakeet, green body, and colorful head. The last confirmed wild specimen was caught in 1904 and they went extinct in captivity by 1918. Besides capture for the pet industry, deforestation and hunting were the main causes of their extinction. Farmers were cutting down trees and shooting the Carolina Parakeets because they were considered an agricultural pest. One unusual trait of the Carolina Parakeet certainly contributed to its demise: they appeared to show a remorse for their dead and visit the location as a flock. Farmers took advantage of this by shooting some and waiting for the rest to come.
Carolina Parakeet at the Field Museum in Chicago
The label reads, "Carolina Paroquet. Conuropsis c. carolinensis Linnacus. This species and its close relative, the extinct Louisiana Paroquet, were the only parrots native to the United States. The demand for caged birds was an important cause of their decline. The last birds of which there is record were captured in southern Florida for that purpose. Southeastern United States. Last authentic record: 1904."
Carolina Parakeet, extinct as of 1904
The Carolina Parakeet was not the only rare parrot I got to see at the museum. Also were featured a Hyacinth Macaw, Palm Cockatoo, Galah, Grey Parrot, Kea, Budgerigar, and some others. Most interesting, however, were the Night Parrot and Kakapo! The Night Parrot is a critically endangered Australian ground parrot once believed to be extinct. The Kakapo is a nearly extinct flightless parrot of New Zealand and the largest of the parrot family. Surprisingly the Kakapo did not appear to be so large though I recognized it immediately. In fact most of the birds I saw in the collection appeared surprisingly small or disproportioned to what I would expect. I think shrinkage of the preserved specimens could play a part but also it seems that they are not scaled to the population. In other words they would display what they had rather than the largest or most average sized birds of the species. A fascinating part of the exhibit was that erect skeletons of species were placed alongside some of the feathered specimens to give you a view both inside and out.
Collection of Parrots including Hyacinth Macaw, Kea, Palm Cockatoo, Grey Parrot, and Galah
Critically endangered Night Parrot
Kakapo, the largest parrot
No Poicephalus parrots were represented. I had to settle for just a Grey Parrot and a Lovebird for the African Parrots. On a side note, I have never seen a Poicephalus parrot in a zoo or museum. Once in a while a Grey parrot but never any Poicephalus or Vasa. I wonder if it's because they are too common is pets, unrepresentative, or just uninteresting to the public.
The Field Museum is well known for its dinosaur exhibit and the largest mounted skeleton of a T. rex welcomes visitors in the main hall. Named after Sue Hendrickson who had found the colossal fossil, Sue is mounted according to the more modern theory about tyrannosaurus posture. Although the skull on the mount is a cast, the original is on display on the second floor above. This $8 million dollar display is considered the pride and major highlight of the museum.
Sue the largest found Tyrannosaurus rex
It is quite possible that Sue descended from the same common ancestor to modern birds and even lived beneath their flying ancestors. Speaking of dinosaurs and ancestors, the museum featured a cast of the Archaeopteryx fossil but more interestingly a 3d model of what the dino-bird may have looked like. Archaeopteryx is believed to be the missing fossil link between birds and their dinosaurial ancestry. Archaeopteryx is much like a bird but manages to maintain some dinosaur features such as teeth, claws on wings, and bony tail. Feather impressions in the fossils prove that Archaeopteryx was capable of flight like modern birds.
Archaeopteryx model based on cast of fossil
So overall it was a valuable visit to the Field Museum with a good focus on avian and paleontological exhibits. So next time you're in Chicago I highly recommend you stop by to say hello to Sue and the rest of the collection.